Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cryn's Story As A Student Loan Refugee And An Indentured Educated Citizen

Harsh critiques of the inherent and systemic problems of a democratic society are necessary. Such critiques allow these societies to flourish, and the most noteworthy critics are those who explicitly yearn for real change. Moreover, their critiques help democratic societies maintain a healthy equilibrium. Of course, critiques must be followed with a set of solutions from the critics (that's why they must show us how they yearn for something better), and those in power must always be open to these suggestions for improvement, even if that means that a shift in policy, or policies, may be politically dangerous.

I was loath to use the words "real change," because, in my view, that term has been sullied. But as a political engaged citizen, I think it's time that I reclaimed those words. The student lending crisis is not being solved, and that's why we must insist that our public servants turn their attention to our needs. Real change should no be out of reach for us.

Furthermore, if there are any countries that may be considering adopting the way in which the U.S. funds students who pursue higher education, it is my hope that this entire paper, " The Plight of Current Borrowers: An Appeal For Immediate Relief," will serve as a cautionary tale. 

Currently the U.S. faces grave problems. The entire structure and stability of the country, in my view, is enormously vulnerable. It is out of balance, thanks to thirty plus years of excessive deregulation, which allowed for the growth of a despicable type of corporatocracy. The result of this deregulation enabled U.S. agencies to lay with the very groups they should have been policing. Instead of maintaining boundaries and enforcing policies that would protect U.S. citizens, their behavior gave way to the most despicable forms of cronyism and nepotism. (Former employees, for instance, of Sallie Mae have burrowed themselves into the U.S. Department of Education, and it is certain that these individuals are not there to help student debtors). There is reason for why people despise government in the U.S., for it has turned a blind eye on it citizens for decades. But that does not mean that government is by nature corrupt and wicked. If there is a way to solve this issue within a specific agency, it is that which belongs to things pertaining to the funding of higher education, and what role the U.S. Government ought to be playing.

One reader recently told me that education and the cause for which I'm fighting is really nothing compared to the larger global issues that the U.S. is facing now. But I beg to differ.

I rarely if ever discuss my own personal struggles as a student debtor. However, the time has come for me to share. After all, so many of you have opened up to me. In so doing, you've invited me into your world of secrets, telling me the most intimate aspects of your everyday life struggles vis-a-vis the student lending crisis. And so it is my turn.

I write this entry as an expat who longs to one day return and work for others in my own country. As I've said before, it is a privilege and an honor to be teaching in the R.O.K. However, I'd much rather be carrying out good deeds and fulfilling my civic duty in the U.S.A. But at this juncture, my own country has made it impossible for me - and millions of others - to earn a decent wage and live a decent life. Neither my readers nor I feel entitled to enormous creature comforts (we've all been unjustly accused of that on hundreds and hundreds of walls about student loan debt). We are only asking for a fair chance, and hoping that our voices will be heard inside the beltway.

I long to be home! Oh, how I long to be home!

However, at this point I may never return, the reasons for which pertain to my personal finances and my political fury. As for finding a real career in my country, I searched exhaustively for one that would allow me to:

(a) flourish intellectually;
(b) put my degrees - especially my training in the social sciences- to work;
(c) continue building on years of professional experience;
(c) help others;
(d) and help contribute to building a better, more just U.S. society.

Like so many other educated professionals, I finally gave up. It is degrading and depressing (as one of my colleagues said last night to me) to search for a job and end up getting no where, and it's not easy sharing that truth with all of you. I recall how the days would pass with the phone never ringing. It was infuriating, that silence. I remember how I sent out specifically tailored cover letters and resumes, all of which - save for a few - were left unanswered. I did have some interviews. But these potential employers were quick to let me know that I was one of 10 candidates. Even when I made it to the second round of interviews, there would be 5 of us at that point. These interviews were grueling, because there were so many additional steps. When I was finally offered a job in Korea, I was in shock with how quickly that offer was extended to me. In the States, I had to write pieces, go for second interviews, etc., etc., etc. I grew tired of jumping through so many hoops. I began to wonder: what's wrong with me? Haven't I done everything right? I have all these degrees, all this professional experience, so what am I lacking? (Incidentally, there is a great blog called "But I Did Everything Right!" and it discusses these issues in the field of law).

My story does not have a tragic ending (for some debtors that's not the case). However, I did have to make the most difficult decision in my life - leave my country for a job abroad. I sold almost all of my belongings, left my cat behind with lovely people, and headed for work in Korea. Here, I have discovered an entire community of student loan debt refugees. That is both comforting and unnerving.

Stay tuned for the final installment of my paper.

  I left him, and so much more, behind  . . .


Demosthenes said...

I never thought the United States would ever become the place that people would leave in order to find opportunity. It may be corny and naive, but I used to firmly believe in a line Sam Seaborn once said on The West Wing, "This country is an idea, and one that's lit the world for two centuries."

I don't believe that anymore and it didn't have to be so. That hurts on a number of levels.

Anonymous said...

You really need to get off the "deregulation" kick. I keep hearing about deregulation, but do not see that much of it. Oh, sure, it's great for political speech, but is not based in reality.

The problem with regulations is that they are not enforced until after the regulated conduct has occurred. It simply costs too much and is too difficult to enforce most regulations.

Humans are scum. They will always be scum. They will seek engage in a political process to pass regulations with an eye towards circumventing them.

Only the stupid fear regulations as they are pointless. You want to fix the student loan system and cost of education. Stop government backing of educational loans. Just like the housing "market," the government's influence has a ton to do with the problems we are currently facing. In short, absent most regulations, none of these housing or educational issues would be occurring.

Yes. Many people do not belong in a four year degree program. Grade inflation has only made matters worse.

Cryn Johannsen said...

Well, that's not what my friend who worked at the S.E.C. in the 70s and the 80s and saw it become a totally toothless regulatory body under Reagan thinks. It's not that they aren't doing their jobs now, it's that they don't know how to do their jobs. He left the S.E.C. in disgust and became an independent consultant, helping China and other emerging markets set up their version of the S.E.C. Because of this, these countries have far less volatile markets than we do.

Moreover, countries in which the majority of people possess four year degrees (or higher) are far healthier than those which do not. In addition, it's about access to education. The opportunity ought to be available to people who could excel and contribute to society.

Cryn Johannsen said...

One last point: I've pointed out before that student loans are being bundled up in investment packages in a similar way that mortgages were, so it does have bearing. See this post:

Frank the Underemployed Professional said...

"Neither my readers nor I feel entitled to enormous creature comforts (we've all been unjustly accused of that on hundreds and hundreds of walls about student loan debt)."

I have been debating politics and philosophy electronically since the birth of the Internet and I think that people's standards with regards to what is acceptable for our nation, economically, have really decreased. We are slowly starting to accept widespread poverty as a way of life. Years ago it wouldn't have been regarded as being unreasonable for college-educated people to expect to be able to obtain middle class jobs and earn a middle class living without much difficulty. Today being able to earn a middle class income is almost seen as a great prize that people need to desperately struggle for. Today it seems like being working poor is the standard from which people try to rise up. It is "the new normal".

I believe that we are witnessing an epic transformation of our country from that of a first world middle class nation to that of an overpopulated second class nation with widespread poverty. This is being driven by an economic force that few people understand called Global Labor Arbitrage. It is also the reason why so many people feel compelled to flood into the universities, making it easier for schools to jack up the tuition. (Since people perceive that it is difficult to attain a middle class standard of living without a college degree today, people are attending college in droves.)

Cryn Johannsen said...

Frank, many thanks for sharing. You have tremendous insights into this student lending crisis. They're depressing, but quit accurate.

Dan said...

Why do we think the U.S. should "automatically" lead the world in everything? If we want to be world leaders and create opportunity we need to work hard and attack our challenges with intelligence. Do you see that happening in 2011?

I sure as hell don't.